Surrounded by the two rivers. The Ohio River, at the mouth of another long tributary that Native Americans called “Kentucke.” A name for that river of water that drained the Eastern Mountains of their common wealth and provided access to her treasures. The one that gave our Commonwealth its name.
I sit between the two rivers in Carrollton’s “Point Park,” celebrating this famous geographic location. The back flap of my teardrop trailer has been lifted upward, exposing the bottled gas stovetop, which is cooking my breakfast. Sausage, two eggs over easy, and some fried buttered toast. The coffee is already warming on the second burner. Magnificent land, I think, as I swallow a cup of java.
What must they have thought, the first Americans to float down this big river? “Turn here,” they surely said, as they caught sight of the mouth of such a large tributary. It must lead to someplace important, an important place to be exploring.
Thoughts of history bring forth lives once living. But the first humans once living here probably walked in hunting. Walked in along the cold glacial face that had driven the giant Pleistocene mammals south to the salt licks in Kentucky. I see these wonderful creatures in my imagination. The giant sloth, the mastodon, the mammoth [can you tell the difference between those two behemoths?], the saber-toothed tiger, and the dire wolf. They were all here before the glaciers retreated about 12,000 years ago, leaving the Ohio River to remember its presence before me.
Did the later, great mound-building Native Americans peer into the mouth of this large river junction? The Adena People, the Hopewellian traders, the Mississippian maize-based cultures? And were their Algonquin descendants, the Shawnee Indians, driven out of this land by the Northern Iroquois tribes, armed by the Dutch in the 1600s with firearms? Is that why there were so few villages in Kentucky when the Europeans reached it? Or was the impact of European diseases enough to depopulate the interior?
As I sit with my breakfast, staring out on this river of history, I wonder who was the first European to see it? France claimed the rights over this land, believing that LaSalle had found it during his Great Lakes travels in 1669. But I think they misread his journal. He never claimed he had done so.
In 1671, Thomas Batts and Robert Fallam may have made it into Kentucky through the mountains of Virginia. If they had made it this far, we would have heard about it. And, in 1673, Marquette and Joliet paddled right past the mouth of the Ohio River, but didn’t come up it!
The first real possibility of European exploration here was the English trader, Gabriel Arthur, in 1673. He was captured by the Cherokees and taken north along the Warrior’s Path through Eastern Kentucky to fight the Shawnee in Ohio. It is probable that he traveled the Ohio River and might have seen the spectacular spot upon which I now sit.
In 1739, the French Baron Charles le Moyne de Longueuil was sent from Canada down the mysterious Ohio River with more than 500 men to fight the Chickasaw Indians who were harassing French traffic on the Mississippi River. He planted the flag of France at Big Bone Lick and surely must have swept past my seat on the river at Carrollton. Alas, these warriors were in a rush, and must have been disappointed not to be able to turn in at the mouth of that “Kentucke” River and discover what mysteries were hidden upstream.
I don’t believe that the French officer, Pierre Joseph Celoron de Blainville, in 1749, made it this far down the Ohio River when he announced French ownership of the river by burying lead plates and erecting signs essentially stating, “No Hunting!”
Thomas Walker made it through the Cumberland Gap in 1750, but his journals clearly indicate that he never made it out of the eastern mountains.
So my first real candidate is Christopher Gist, who, in 1751, traveled on foot near the Falls of the Ohio River [Louisville], and clearly stopped upstream of here at Drennon’s Lick on his way back home over Kentucky’s Eastern Mountains.
Trader John Findley was also here, paddling up the Kentucky River on his way up to Eskippakithiki in 1752.
It was obvious that this spot mattered, even if the King of England forbade its settlement [the Proclamation of 1763]. John Harrod camped here, in 1774, on his way to the founding of Harrodsburg upriver in the Bluegrass Region of Kentucky.
After the Battle of Fallen Timbers in 1794 [near Toledo, Ohio], against a coalition of Northwest Native Americans, Kentucky became safe for eastern colonization. Carrollton was initially founded in that year, and was originally called Port William. It was renamed in honor of one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, Charles Carroll of Maryland.
The community has thrived ever since. Carroll County is blessed with the flat fertile floodplains of the Ohio and Kentucky Rivers. Its productive uplands are cut by creeks straining to reach those mighty rivers’ drainage. Its southern border is marked by the wide valley of Eagle Creek and the village of Worthville.
John Filson, in the map accompanying his 1784 book entitled, “The Discovery, Settlement, and Present State of Kentucke,” shows “Big Bone Cr.” [“the large bones are found here”] north of this area, but relates little of the topography in this region. The mouth of the Kentucky River, Eagle Creek, and the Little Kentucke River are noted, but no settlements are shown. Only “Gen’l Clark’s War Road” is drawn as passing through this region.
Transportation in such a river town is a tradition. No bridge crosses the Ohio River in Carrollton to Indiana, but Interstate 71, between Louisville and Cincinnati, swings around behind it. You will know you are there when you are driving that freeway and drop down into the magnificent Kentucky River valley. Look for it and smile.
Most people driving are in a rush and just climb up the other side. Slow down, take a breath, and make a turn toward town. You will like what you find. And bring a boat or a bicycle. There is a good loading ramp at the park, and an ambitious array of bicycle paths planned and constructed for your visit through the city’s history.
Now take a look at Carrollton through your terrain view map on your smart phone. Glaciers never covered Kentucky, so the Kentucky River, as a sculptor, still shows her work as it was originally sculpted! The Kentucky River signals its approach to its Ohio River junction by cutting a “Pharos,” a lighthouse-like mountain, to alert the Ohio River as to the coming of the Kentucky River’s magnificence. The prominence is worthy of its location and status as the “General Butler State Resort Park.”
The Park’s Lodge and Restaurant is famous to those who come here to eat and visit. Stay at the lodge, in a cabin, or at the campground. Watch birds, boat, canoe and fish on the park’s lake. Check out the museum. There are six hiking trails that allow dogs on a leash. And don’t forget to watch the sunset on the CCC [Civilian Conservation Corps]Overlook!
I have my bicycle and have warmed up riding in town. Now it is time to conquer that mountain. Bring your helmet to the 4.5-mile “Fossil Trail.” It is rated for the “Skilled Rider!”
The Ohio River is also famous, here, for its large industrial base stretched out along the wide river terrace, backing up to the ridges behind them. Ample land, exceptional water, and an educated, technical and hard-working workforce. Many employees are trained at the large new complex of the Carrollton Campus of the Jefferson Community and Technical College. Community awareness of the well-paying jobs resulted in a major fundraising campaign to make the new Junior College Campus a reality. I am honored when I am periodically asked to teach there.
These industries also deserve a significant nod. Drive along the river, and appreciate their value to a community. They are a major part of successful living in Kentucky.
Carrollton is a well-balanced community worth your visit, interest, and investment. As for me, I think I will take my teardrop camper over to the Two Rivers Campground and pretend that I can hang with those big fifth-wheel RVs!
I wonder if the old Carrollton Inn will again be serving dinner? I will be patient. There is always moonlight popcorn available on my camper’s popup grill!